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Friday before the Panthers and the Wild Card

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2015 – 11:58 am

Remember the last time the Cardinals went to Carolina for a playoff game? It turned out pretty well for the Cards. They flipped Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into a turnover-machine – six in all – as the Cards crushed the 12-4 Panthers on their Super Bowl run.

The Cardinals (and the Panthers, for that matter) are way different than that team. Only three Cardinals who were there in the 2008 season will be on the field Saturday: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (who destroyed the Panthers that night), center Lyle Sendlein and defensive end Calais Campbell, who was just a rookie.

That game didn’t start well but we knew from playing them earlier in the season we could beat them,” Campbell said this week, choosing “resilience” as the one word to describe that game.

Campbell’s current team is looking for that resilience. The Cardinals are the underdog for their playoff game – as usual, coach Bruce Arians said – but even with a two-game losing streak, they carry with them a confidence they will be fine. Everyone has the same record at this point is the message coming from the team’s locker room. It’s a fresh start.

The Cards were the underdog once upon a time too. “I remember at halftime, Kurt Warner saying, ‘We’ve got them down, we’ve just got to finish them,’ ” Campbell said of that night in January, 2009. “He didn’t talk big too often, so when he said ‘Finish them,’ we all got focused.”

We’ll see where the Cardinals’ focus is Saturday.

— Campbell was named second-team all-pro Friday, underscoring a big season in which Campbell also was named to his first Pro Bowl. Campbell got 11 votes at defensive end, trailing only Houston’s J.J. Watt (unanimous 50 votes) and Buffalo’s Mario Williams (24). (Campbell also got a vote at defensive tackle for some reason.)

Four Cardinals got a single AP vote at their respective positions: tackle Jared Veldheer, linebacker Larry Foote, kicker Chandler Catanzaro and safety Rashad Johnson.

— There isn’t much more to be analyzed about quarterback Ryan Lindley. He can’t turn the ball over, and while he shouldn’t have to throw for 260 yards in a half for the Cardinals to win, he will have to make some plays. In a lot of ways, this game feels like it will come down to the quarterbacks – The Cards need Lindley to hold up, and they need to hold down Cam Newton.

— There was a players-only meeting Monday after the 49ers game. “I think a lot of good things we said in there,” Arians said during his appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, and it was probably some important things. When you are having issues communicating – which especially has happened on defense a few times – and there is a need to refocus on the tackling, such a meeting can help. If nothing else, it was a chance for guys to clear the air and make sure the most important message was heard: It’s not easy to get to the playoffs or win in them. Don’t squander the opportunity with self-inflicted mistakes.

— Arians said he doesn’t want the defense to feel it has to do extra just because Lindley is at quarterback. Interestingly, that’s the opposite of what former Buccaneers coach-turned-ESPN-analyst Jon Gruden said he did once upon a time.

“The year we won the Super Bowl (in the 2002 season), we had to beat Chicago in Week 16 with our backup quarterback, and we had never won a game in below‑freezing temperature,” Gruden said. “So what I did is I went down to Warren Sapp’s locker and Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and said we’ve got to play some defense tonight.

“That’s what Bruce Arians has to do. You’ve got to go get Calais Campbell, you’ve go get your star players on defense, hopefully Larry Foote is ready to go, get Patrick Peterson and Cromartie and say, ‘Let’s pick it up, let’s play the game of the year on the road.’ Go down to Ted Ginn and say ‘Return a punt just like you did against the Giants.’ Let’s get after them in the kicking game, as well. Let’s run the ball.  Let’s not be afraid to punt the football, and let’s take our shots here and there when we strategically get the one‑on‑one isolations that we want. Don’t turn it over, play great defense, and find a way to win.”

— The chance for rain on game day has shrunk to 50 percent. It’s also warmer in Charlotte than it is in Phoenix.

— The Panthers did finish on a four-game win streak, but they played four sub-.500 teams – the Saints, Bucs, Browns and Falcons. Something to consider.

— Getting Larry Foote back at inside linebacker is more important than most realize, I think.

— The Cards, if they win, won’t know where they are playing until Sunday. A Cowboys win Sunday and the Cardinals would travel to Seattle. A Lions win, and the Cards would travel to Green Bay.

Of course, they’ve got to win first.


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Gruden visits, so time to catch up on coach talk

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2013 – 5:15 pm

If you put your head down for a moment and just listened, you can definitely hear the Jon Gruden in Jay Gruden’s voice. That’s natural since they are brothers, but kind of funny since everyone is so familiar with Jon’s voice because of “Monday Night Football.”

(The similar-voice-with-brothers can be fun, though. My brother and I have gotten my Mom and my wife on it a couple of times over the phone.)

Jon also helped Jay a bit with his first-ever coaching interview Thursday. “Jon’s always got his two cents to add,” Jay Gruden said. “He can talk with the best of them. He’s been around the block a few times.”

Whether Jay Gruden actually will make a push to be head coach is anyone’s guess. The Cards have played this pretty close to the vest, even as they announce who they are talking to. It’s an impressive walk of the tightrope. Next week will be interesting, depending on how the Broncos — and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy — do. If they lose, something would go down next week you’d figure. Barring more interviews, you’d think the process would move forward with all candidates available. If they win, something could still happen next week, just not with McCoy, who is off-limits until his team is out.

But there is no puff of white smoke yet from 8701 S. Hardy.

You know, if the building had a chimney.

— XTRA’s Mike Jurecki is reporting that Ray Horton has reached out to Norv Turner to gauge interest in Turner taking the offensive coordinator job if Horton were to get the head coaching job. Not that Turner has said yes, but it’s interesting if true. I mentioned that possibility last week.

— I have seen the report that former Eagles offensive line coach (and DC, but in this case, it’d probably be line related) Juan Castillo would interview with the Cards. That has not been confirmed. I would think a head coach would be in place before more assistants would be hired, but Castillo’s reputation as a line coach is a good one.

— The Browns reportedly brought Ken Whisenhunt in for a second interview for their head coaching job. Horton was interviewed by the Browns (but just once thus far). The Browns have a lot of candidates they have talked to thus far. It doesn’t seem like Horton — who also interviewed for the now-filled Bills job — is in the mix.

UPDATE: It turns out the Browns hired Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski as head coach. And other reports have Chudzinski pursuing/hiring Norv Turner as OC, which if it happened would obviously mean Horton couldn’t get him.

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Gruden planned as coaching candidate

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2013 – 6:44 pm

The Cardinals confirmed Sunday they plan to interview Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden this week for their vacant head coaching position. Gruden had success grooming second-round 2011 pick Andy Dalton at quarterback, as the Bengals made the playoffs in each of Dalton’s first two seasons. The Bengals’ offense did struggle Saturday in its playoff loss at Houston, although the Texans do have a tough defense.

(Again, no confusion here: This is Jay Gruden, not ESPN announcer/former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who is, in fact, Jay’s brother.)

Gruden becomes the fourth known candidate (fifth total, although Andy Reid never interviewed). Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was Saturday’s interview. Todd Haley still is on the radar, although no known interview has been set up as yet. And there is Ray Horton.

McCoy did spend Sunday with lengthy interviews with the Eagles and Bears. Reportedly, the Eagles want to talk to Gruden. Horton remains a candidate with the Browns, who reportedly have moved on from trying to get Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

The Cards are still looking for a general manager. They have already interviewed in-house candidate Steve Keim and the Redskins’ Morocco Brown. I’d think that decision would come sooner rather than later. We will see.

For perspective on the coach search, let’s look at the last time the Cards hired a coach. Denny Green was fired Jan. 1, 2007. Ken Whisenhunt was hired Jan. 13.

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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2010 – 1:55 am

Well, I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect the Cards to get beat up by the Niners like that, and I didn’t expect Derek Anderson to be all over the TV and radio when it was over because of his heated postgame comments (You can see the video here). That a few seconds of Anderson smiling on the sideline would garner so much attention is amazing yet understandable at the same time. I didn’t even see the video until after the postgame interview process was over, but I darn sure heard about it via Twitter from a lot of fans – already upset at the way the game was going – even moreso after seeing the quarterback like that. (I am also sure fans heard Jon Gruden on the telecast questioning it too).

My guess it was a bit of gallows humor from Deuce Lutui (Kurt Warner joked to me on Twitter after that “Knowing Deuce he was inviting DA over 4 a Tongan barbecue 2 lighten the moment, I would have laughed 2!”). That’s fine. Just explain that. In the grand scheme, it isn’t a huge deal really. But what else is there to really talk about?

The Cards misfired in all three facets of the game. They couldn’t take advantage of Frank Gore’s injury and let the corpse of Brian Westbrook erupt for 136 yards rushing. They couldn’t do much on offense again. Special teams also took it on the chin a couple of times, whether it was Ted Ginn ripping off some long returns or having a good kickoff runback by LaRod Stephens-Howling called back on a penalty.

Not good. Not good at all.

“To lose six in a row, it hurts,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Especially when you know these guys in the locker room. I look at what we do on the practice field, how we work, work, work, this doesn’t make no sense to me.

“People say, ‘When is it gonna change, when’s it gonna change?’ (Expletive), it don’t seem like it’s ever gonna change. I don’t know what’s going on.”

— That was as glum as I have ever seen Larry Fitzgerald. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said, and it was tough to blame him. I know this is where everyone freaks out again about Fitz long-term, and that is an issue that must be contemplated. In the moment, though, he’s not only at a loss for words, but also answers.

— Breaking down numbers seems pointless tonight (especially at 1:45 a.m.). The 49ers dominated, and you don’t have to look at the stat sheet to see that. It was stunning to see Westbrook run the ball so well, however. The running lanes were huge at times. Troy Smith didn’t even have a good night throwing, other than that first TD pass. It didn’t matter.

— The last thing this team needs right now is a turnover – especially on the very first offensive play. When you wonder about a team’s confidence, which coach Ken Whisenhunt did last week, it isn’t helped by a quick mistake.

— We will see if anything changes tomorrow or Wednesday but when asked generally about changing personnel this week – which, of course, includes the quarterback – Whisenhunt noted a short week and said “we’re going to stick with what we do.” I assume that means Anderson still starts. Even if he were to make a change, I wouldn’t think we would hear anything until Wednesday anyway, because tomorrow is a mandated players day off and Whiz doesn’t announce such things unless he gets to talk to players first.

— So obviously, no, I don’t expect Anderson’s postgame comments to impact playing time. Nor should they, in this case. If a change is going to be made, it should be for football reasons, and it seems – given the Cards’ record and future – there are valid ones to do so. Please don’t ask me about Max Hall and John Skelton playing beyond that information though. I don’t know and it doesn’t even make sense to hazard a guess anymore.

— As I wrap up, I think of wide receiver Steve Breaston, who has slid into the role of resident philosopher/soul of the team in many ways. Maybe it’s his background as a writer, I don’t know. But even when the Miracle Baby says he doesn’t have anything to say he ends up having something to say.

“We have been through trying times and we have responded so I think the people on this team know how to respond,” Breaston said. “I don’t know what’s going on…. ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ are cool, but sometimes, you gotta jump over somebody, you gotta run through somebody. That’s all about being a football player and playing beyond the expectations of that play.”

At this point, I would guess the fans would be happy with just coming close to expectations.

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Saturday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2010 – 4:26 pm

In weeks like this – a Monday game, in which the Saturday before becomes a normal Friday, at least in the regimented world of the NFL – the time after the final practice is oddly quiet. The offices are closed, so while the team is going about normal business, the rest of the building is shut down. Media coverage is even lighter than normal. And this week, it gave coach Ken Whisenhunt a chance to be a little more introspective after the camera (there was only one, from azcardinals.com) was off.

Whiz was asked if, around the holidays right now, he was finding any chance of relaxing away from the game. He had already mentioned to us previously that night time – when there wasn’t any work left to be done and he was alone in his thoughts to mull what was going on – was the hardest.

Not surprisingly, Whiz said no.

“It’s hard,” Whisenhunt said. “I am disappointed. I want to win. It doesn’t sit in your gut right. You think about a million things that could have gone differently or been done differently. It’s not easy. That’s the way it is.”

Whiz hasn’t been through this as a head coach, although he mentioned a similar season he dealt with in Pittsburgh (which I noted earlier this week). There, however, Whiz was an assistant. And that doesn’t compare to living with it as a head coach.

“I feel like, ‘You let everybody down,’ ” Whisenhunt said. “You’re working hard, you’re trying to do it right, you want to have success. But you’re not. And it’s hard.”

— So the Cards will be on the national TV stage trying to break a five-game losing streak. Whisenhunt made it clear this week that while technically the Cards are still in the NFC West race, it was folly to think about such things until the Cards won a game (or two or three) and he’s right. The reality, however, is this: The Cards will know by the time they play what Seattle and St. Louis have done this week. If they have both lost, the winner of this Monday game is better off than any 4-7 team deserves.

— This is the fourth straight game the Cards are playing a team that is coming off a beatdown the previous week. The Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs all had suffered multiple bad games in a row before beating the Cards. The Cards have to make that fact work in their favor for once.

— San Francisco QB Troy Smith is a wild card here – Beanie Wells has been swearing by his former Ohio State teammate all season, insisting he was the best the Niners had – but maybe the Bucs showed a blueprint of how to deal with Smith last week.

— That said, I have seen two Niners – Frank Gore and Vernon Davis – be particular pains-in-the-rear to the Cards over the years. Those two, I think, are the keys to the game. Gore especially seems to just kill the Cards. They have to contain him.

— If you missed it, this is a great video on former-Cards-receiver-turned-team-mentor Anthony Edwards.

— Steve Breaston talked about scoring touchdowns. The Cards have to find a way. The offense has scored more than one touchdown in just four of 10 games this season.

— No official word on the roof being open, but given that it is a night game and a national telecast, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the sky. We already know we’re going to see the black uniforms.

— It would be cool for Larry Fitzgerald to get the nine receptions he needs to become the franchise’s all-time leader in catches (he is eight behind Anquan Boldin’s 586). Then again, it’s not like he won’t be breaking the mark at home, with three straight home games.

— The last time both the Cards and 49ers used the same starting quarterbacks for both regular-season matchups was 2003, when Jeff Blake faced off against Jeff Garcia twice. Since then, one or both of the teams has used two different starting QBs. The chances both Derek Anderson and Troy Smith still will be starting in the regular-season finale Jan. 2? I’m just sayin’ …

— Jon Gruden took Fitzgerald on to the “Monday Night Football” bus this afternoon to talk a little and go over some video. I squeezed in to the tight hallway to snap a picture of Gruden and Fitz – Fitz was admiring Gruden’s Super Bowl ring. And if you notice on the screen in the background (sorry about the flash), cued up on the video is the moment right before Fitz broke his 64-yard Super Bowl touchdown.

Ahh, good times. But time to live in the now. It’s on to Monday night.

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